tv To the Contrary With Bonnie Erbe WHUT March 13, 2010 10:30am-11:00am EST
>> bonnie: this week on a special edition of "to the contrary," we taken an in-depth look at how the environmental movement dropped u.s. population stabilization as one of its goals. [ ♪music ] >> bonnie: hello, i'm bonnie erbé. welcome to "to the contrary," a discussion of news and social trends from diverse perspectives. in the 1970s, u.s. population and the environment were widely and publicly linked in popular culture and by the environmental movement. but today, the environmental
movement eschews the population issue. in the first of a three-part series, we look at why and how this happened. organizers of the first earth day in 1970 called u.s. population stabilization critical to restoring the environment. the nationwide celebration produced a particular groundswell that spurred congress and the nixon, ford and carter administrations to enact a host of sweeping environmental laws including president nixon's national environmental policy act, often referred to as the nation's environmental magna carta. >> i mean, they really did a phenomenal job of studying it. it was a very scholarly approach. they had economists, environmentalists, bankers, everybody else, trying to look at the whole effect of population growth on the globe. the interesting thing is that nixon set it up.
and nixon was profgressive upon it, he really kind of understood it. in this 2 1/2 year time frame, everything started to turn around, and it just became this big political brouhaha. and he kind of panicked and backed away. >> bonnie: a common recollection of aging population activists is the night in 1973 when tv broadcasters announced that the 1972 u.s. fertility rate had reached zero population growth. most people thought that meant the u.s. population problem was over. in fact, because of what demographers call population momentum, it takes up to 70 years after the replacement-level fertility rate is reached for a nation to stop growing. on top of that, there was a huge increase in immigration levels starting in the 1970s. >> immigration had been almost no factor in population growth for about 40 years, and all of a sudden by the late '70s, early
'80s, immigration was not only the overwhelming cause of population growth, it was starting to drive a population growth that was bigger than the baby boom. >> bonnie: as environmentalists deserted the u.s. population issue, so did the news media. 40 years ago, coverage of u.s. population problems was featured regularly on the front pages of newspapers, magazine covers, on books, and on the nightly tv news. within a few years, it disappeared. dr. t. michael maher studies media coverage of the environment. in the late 1990s, one of his surveys showed: >> about 10% of the stories even mentioned population growth as a cause of, for example, water shortages. and only one story in the whole sample mentioned that a stable population might be a solution. >> bonnie: dr. maher says between the '70s and the '90s, journalists' attitudes towards population growth changed markedly. journalists told him they were uncomfortable raising the
population issue on their own. >> i actually got on the phone and called a good sample of these reporters and said, hey, you just did this story about water shortage in san antonio, or an endangered species in california somewhere. why did you omit population growth as a possible cause of the problem? were the reporters simply ignorant of this? and as it turned out, none of them were. all of them were deeply aware of the role of population growth in precipitating environmental problems, but what most of them told me was that, hey, i've got maybe ten or 12 column inches to explain that a golf course is going to displace the habitat of this engendered garden snake -- garter snake. i just don't have the room in the story to take on population growth. >> bonnie: at the same time, business and political groups began to push for more growth for cheap labor and more support from voters. during this time, the
switched its theme to "smart growth." the end result was a limited spectrum for the media that made talk of "no growth" and "greatly reduced growth" verboten as acceptable solutions for air and water pollution, overcrowding and sprawl. dr. maher thinks this could have been avoided if early environmentalists had done a better job of framing the issue. >> they framed it in terms of loss of nonrenewable resources and massive starvation, when in fact population growth manifests itself more in terms of things like traffic, and endangered species, and land-use issues. but there's a lot of business interests that make a lot of money on population growth. >> bonnie: 1998 was a watershed year for this changed approach to the environment, as two major environmental groups also erupted in a highly public battle over u.s. population. after more than two decades of dwindling interest, many of the old environmental guard from the '70s openly challened the national leadership of the sierra club and zero population
growth. the old guard tried to put u.s. population stabilization, and the reduction in immigration levels it entailed, back on the agenda. the sierra club and zpg, now renamed the population connection, both outspoken in the 70s on the urgency that u.s. stabilization, each had changed their policies in the two years prior to 1998 to dissociate themselves from this cause. >> the environmental movement clucking around the political arena, and choosing the path of least resistance. it's much easier to create corporate bad guys and just paint them as the problem and focus on low-hanging fruit. institutionally, all movements go through a formative early phase with ideology and promoters who helped bring about the original concepts such as earth day. institutions are then formed or created over time, which settle in to a goal of self-perpetuation.
self-perpetuation becomes the goal, and the professional staff then start leading institutions down this path of least resistance. >> walter lippman did a wonderful book called "public opinion" in 1922, and lippman distinguished between news and truth. his just about exact words were, the function of news is to signalize an event, whereas the function of truth is to bring to light the hidden facts, to set them in relation to each other, and to create a picture upon which people can act. i think we just all have to keep in mind the news we're reading, there's a lot of truth that gets left out of the stories. particularly with regard to population-driven water shortages and endangered species, or even global climate change. you never get the whole picture in a news story. you've almost got to go to other sources to have a truly informed opinion. >> bonnie: up next: population stabilization and feminism.
in june 1960, the food and drug administration approved the first birth control pill, giving women complete control over pregnancy for the first time in history. but it also triggered a formidable counterattack from religious leaders and social conservatives. in the second part of our series, we take a look at the role played by women's reproductive rights in the population stabilization debate. during the late 1960s, the vatican and american catholic and christian church leaders launched a major counterattack on the growing use of contraceptives, including a public relations war against groups advocating for population control, something they had not done before. >> it is not that the church did not have position on life or didn't advocate on its behalf. but these new threats to marital intimacy, to welcoming children as a gift, and to honoring and respecting life from its
earliest stages were new and and widespread threats that they hadn't had to respond to before. >> bonnie: most population and environmental groups that called for population stabilization also then advocated easier, cheaper access to reliable, safe contraceptives, as well as for biologically accurate sex education. many of them also called for the legalization of abortion. mary lou tanton was active with michigan planned parenthood at the time and saw how this spurred church action against the environmental movement. >> well, i think they encouraged their own members to perhaps have larger families. i think, though, that the contraceptive use by the other people, while it was frowned upon, i don't believe they resisted that as much as they tried to make the link
perhaps, with abortion and contraceptives. we at planned parenthood never looked upon abortion as a method of birth control or first choice, but rather something to be used as a last resort. >> bonnie: meanwhile, in 1972, due to a more educated female populace and the availability of the pill, the u.s. total fertility rate fell to below the 2.1 births per woman that marks replacement level. by 1976, fertility had hit an all-time low of 1.7 and hovered just above that for years. >> if women had more options, better education, access to professional opportunities, there was a natural fertility drop as they pursued avenues that were more, uh, enlightened, more interesting than having 15 or 20 children. so you see a fertility drop, and people felt that was an easier way to get at it. rather than focus on population, on overpopulation, let's focus on empowering woman and giving them opportunities, and that will reduce fertility rates. >> bonnie: then in 1973, in roe v. wade, the u.s. supreme court legalized abortion.
that set off a much more intense church-led campaign by many christian faiths against the population movement. >> the population issue, i think, really became like the hot stove nobody wanted to touch, right after roe v. wade. everything was bubbling along, and it was part of the environmental agenda, and it was part of the reasonable thinking agenda, and everyone was talking about it and how do we deal with it. how do we talk about it? how do we manage it? what do we think? and then roe v. wade came, and the catholic church kind of came out on the street at 100 miles an hour. and got mobilized and got other people doing it, too. >> bonnie: abortion has been something of a minor issue within the population stabilization movement -- considered a fail-safe for the campaign to reach replacement-level fertility rates. as it turned out, america reached population stabilization the year before the supreme court legalized abortion on a national scale.
rights leaders nonetheless viewed legalized abortion and population stabilization as being inextricably linked. >> the opponents to family planning did a very divisive tactic by saying essentially promoting family planning would lead to genocide. it was a whole strategy. i always see as one of the major opponents to family planning is the hierarchy of the roman catholic church. but it's not just them. there just became this whole thing that was family planning, advocating it for the developing world, anti-people of color. >> bonnie: there was even a b movie released in 1971 called "zpg" for zero population growth that envisioned a big brother-type world in which governments controlled women's fertility and issued robotic infants to women who wanted children but weren't
allowed to have them. >> clearly there are politics, associated with certain religious groups, who feel the discussion of overpopulation inevitably means a discussion of abortion. in fact, the issues have nothing to do with one another. a society can easily achieve lower fertility rates and try to reduce its overall population size through responsible immigration programs, without ever dealing with the question of abortion. >> but the faith-based antiabortion movement grew as immigration levels rose. the two pushed environmentalists farther away from pressing for limits on the quickly growing u.s. population rate. >> i think that the environmentalists made a pact with both of the feminists and the pro-immigration people, to stay away from it. i believe they've been absolutely awol. i don't think it makes sense to say you're an environmentalist if you don't have a deep concern
about population. >> but when it comes to population, i think we have to be careful. we ought to be thoughtful about how we solve this issue for everyone. and i'll tell you that there has been a very negative tone in the past by environmentalists who immediately have put population issues with a spin oftentimes perhaps interrupted, but i think -- perhaps interpreted but i think perhaps sometimes legitimate of an anti-immigrant sound to it. and that's not a way to engage our community. planned parenthood no longer >> bonnie: by the 1990s, planned parenthood no longer played any role in advocating for u.s. population stabilization to protect the environment. its focus had narrowed to women's full access to the whole range of fertility and birth control options. other environmental groups either dropped the u.s. population issue entirely or
dropped discussion of u.s. overpopulation and turned instead to developing nations' population problems. in 2004, the "los angeles times" broke the story that hundred million dollar sierra club donor david gelbaum told the group's top official the sierra club would never get money from him if it addressed the population-related immigration issue. >> what happened to the sierra club was just an intensified microcosm of what happens throughout all the environmental groups. but the sierra club is the -- sort of the most tragic, because they were the most out-front. the sierra club, back in 1970s, had a very clear policy that they would work for population stabilization. and then they got a potential funder who was willing to give $100 million. the "l.a. times" reported years later that he said, "you can never deal with immigration." and so that's a hundred million reasons not to deal with it. >> bonnie: this change in
perspective by u.s. environmental groups was evident at the 1994 u.n. international conference on population and development in cairo, egypt. the long international document from cairo made no mention of the connections between population growth and the environmental ills of countries with growing populations. >> the population in 1950 in the united states was 150 million, we're now at over 300 million, and it doesn't show signs of slowing down in the near future. when the population commission was created originally, there were suggestions for slowing down. for having a population policy in the united states. and that never happened. and since it never happened, it's safe to say if you don't
have a population policy, you have established a policy, and that is for uncontrolled growth. >> bonnie: in the third part of owsh series, why did the u.s. environmental movement back away from its early position on immigration and u.s. population? here's one explanation of how that happened. the overwhelming nonhispanic white leadership of the environmental movement may have felt it was defensible to address population growth as long as the great bulk of population growth came from nonhispanic whites. this was the case during the early years of the baby boom. in fact, the environmental movement is often remembered as starting around population issues. but the situation changed dramatically after 1972. from that year forward, the fertility of nonhispanic whites fell below replacement level, while that of african americans and other communities of color kept rising. so even raising the issue of
fertility reduction after 1972 drew disproportionate attention to nonwhites. >> america has had a very unhappy chapter in it, in terms of racism and discrimination. and i think in 1960s, there was american history that it sort of imprinted itself on us, and we passed essentially, not only a bunch of civil rights laws, but also the immigration law of 1965, which, in fact, changed the whole flow of immigration from sort of the developed world, or europe, to opening it up. >> bonnie: that left the predominantly white environmental movement in the position opposing mainly immigrants of color. i asked nclr leader janet
murgia if it was possible to oppose immigration on environmental grounds without being charged with racism. >> i think reasonable minds can differ on how we can deal with the issue of global climate change or of immigration reform, and you know we're -- nclr is an organization that has been around for 40 years, and we've worked with congress, and we've worked with members on both sides of the aisle, and we can have honest policy differences, and it shouldn't have to at all question someone's openness to race or ethnicity. >> the fact that the immigrants are coming from different countries that they did prior to, let's say, 1970s, creates a volatility in the immigration debate and makes easy for any opponents of immigration control argue that those who want to limit the numbers are motivated by racial animus. it is a very predictable kind of argument to make. the fact is that the sheer
larger than anything seen before in american history means that we ought to be able to have t gy issues like that. >> bonnie: during the 26 years after 1972, the nonhispanic white share of population growth declined significantly. thus by the 1990s a majority of the nation's growth stemmed from sources other than nonhispanic whites -- mainly asia and latin america. environmental leaders -- proud and protective of their claim to the moral high ground -- did not want to address volatile race and ethnic relations by appearing to point fingers at persons of color. >> i do think the religious community and the hispanic caucus and the very fear that people have, the real fear of being charged as being racists, i think, has just put immigration into a very difficult category of public policy.
it's very difficult to discuss immigration without someone coming up and saying you're a racist. >> pro-immigration is more of a human rights stand, and it became -- the reactionary forces were the ones who were sort of "no immigrants, close the borders, build fences." so part of that was over the immigration issue more than anything else and a change instance. >> bonnie: meanwhile, modifications in immigration law launched in 1965 inadvertently started what is referred to as chain migration, in which immigrants acted as sponsors for extended family members. chain migration began to snowball during the 1970s. at the v at the very time that american fertility fell to replacement level, immigration levels were rising rapidly and swelling u.s. population. this was a boon to the business
community which benefited from the new labor pool. >> cheap labor is a great economic boon to a business community. cheap labor is economic cocaine to the business community. they get addicted to it. >> in 1970, i think it's safe to say that probably only about 5 to 10% of our growth was due to immigration, which at the time was running about 200 to 250,000 a year. by 1990 or0 t000, that completey changed. in any given year, only about one-third of the growth in the united states population was due to the birth rate here of the native born. and about two-thirds was due to direct immigration and the indirect of immigration, which is births to immigrants. because in the long term, which
basically prevents the united states from ever establishing -- stato thlizing the populatiob >> and so a lot of well-meaning >> bonnie: rapid u.s. population growth was making it ever more politically and technically infeasible to meet environmental goals set in the 1970s. yet the environmental movement of the late 1990s was willing to forsake its original goals and newer ones to protect the level of immigration that was four times higher than it was before the first earth day. what was it about immigration that made environmental groups, by and large, meekly acquiesce to immigration levels that clashed head-on with the fundamental goal of population stabilization? >> the environmental movement became much more of a left wing movement than it had bbve b and the more that the conservatives sort of shunned the environmentalists, the more the environmental grouade became leftists, and the leftists overall saw immigration as a racial issue. >> and hence, we are on a course to hit a billion people sometime late in this century, with
stating consequence for our environment. if we even get there. i'm not certain that the united states will be able to support a to thllion people when you consr things like peak oil, climate change, but that's the trajectory we're on right now, and the environmentalists by and large, the environmental establishment, the major l gdayttg tedhrontis%t of$shmhu, meio wd -boonbate% and&m t"latiooup )